When I first started living with my partner, I’d also get hurt when trying to speak with him.
He seemed to be happy to talk but would quickly butt in to say something that excited him or to change the subject when I spoke. I could hardly believe it. “What about me?” I thought.
I’m guessing you too may get thrown when your attempts to share yourself seem to backfire. Your deep perception of others’ needs has taught you how to be there for people and you love how empathic listening helps people connect. So why can’t you be received this way too?
Sometimes, this is not a problem. When you give empathy, you are in contact with the energy of empathy as well and it uplifts you.
Often, the sheer joy of giving, the being able to soothe somebody with your presence, is all the nurturing you need. You feel blessed to be able to give it.
But, sometimes you may feel lonely and frustrated about attention flowing away from you. Why is it?
On your own with it, hurt, confused, you begin to wonder: ‘What’s wrong with them?’. And also: ‘How come that there isn’t enough attention for me?!’. Thus the torment begins.
Because, common as this reaction is, the ‘what’s wrong with x?’ questions are dangerously unhelpful to ponder. Any answer you get will be painful and providing ‘proof that your suffering cannot cease because…’
‘Because he doesn’t care and because I don’t project my needs enough’ were my (now embarrassing) conclusions.
Deeper truth can be surprising
When I got “bruised” enough from doing the usual, useless things to help myself (you know: hoping, hinting and moaning) I thought to look into my side of the problem (you know: the bit you can change).
Duh! I realised I hadn’t actually told my partner that I wanted attention when I did.
Digging deeper, I had to admit to myself that I also steered conversations towards me doing more listening. Surprise! Yet it made sense.
As a sensitive person, I can get easily overwhelmed in the spotlight or from people’s unpredictable reactions to me. In the role of the listener, I have both connection AND safety.
But the clincher came when I actually revealed my tender wish for attention.
Because my partner was beautifully attentive, quite unlike what I had told myself about him. He only seemed not to from not knowing I wanted it when I did (and from my thinking that he didn’t care). Ouch!
Vulnerability as a superpower
If, like me in this case, you hide vulnerability when you feel it most, then you may have (unintentionally) cut yourself off from a powerful resource.
For one thing, unapologetic vulnerability is exactly what melts people’s hearts and makes them want to give to you to the extent that anything does. Just think of how people respond to babies and kittens. 🙂
Even more crucially, allowing vulnerable feelings takes you beyond the stuckness of painful thoughts. It re-opens your heart to connection, your mind to creative solutions.
Factoring in what you didn’t know
The torturous thought I had about my partner’s “inattention” was that I didn’t matter to him.
From the honest conversation we had I saw that the opposite was true. He just navigates attention differently to how I know or expect it. For example, he doesn’t offer it on tap like I do, just because someone starts talking. (I could learn from him there!) He prefers (and needs to) to “psych himself up” for listening first.
Also, he has a limit to how long he can give attention for. He wants me to consider that so I’m free to seek alternative time or a listener for me.
This was all news to me. And, it revealed that my “not mattering” had already lived inside me, as a story, before my partner’s “not listening”.
Which led me to a new, better question: how do you connect to your own mattering independently of needing people to be a particular way? I laughed when this answer appeared inside:
Welcome vulnerability as a beautiful, wise reflection of what’s true about you!
Questions for beautiful attention
If you felt your vulnerable feelings about somebody’s inattention, what would they give attention to, inside you?
Here are some “better questions” to help you relate to both your protective story and your vulnerability around receiving attention.
- What am I telling myself is the case? Write down word for word, no planning or editing what you’re thinking to yourself. e.g. “I’m telling myself she is so selfish, happy to take, take, take. I’m telling myself that…”
- What feelings arise, especially how am I experiencing vulnerability about this? Scan your body and emotions to notice. e.g. Oh, I’m all stiff, frustrated and… folded in on myself around the belly. Sad, deep down.
- What is my vulnerability protecting? What’s the longing I have but I’d rather not reveal I have? e.g. Hm… I don’t want to be rejected. That’s the “don’t want” so what do I want instead? Well, love, really, more then anything else…
- How can I make friends with my longing so that whatever happens, I’ll let myself feel it? e.g. Er… I’d rather not feel it, truth be told. But, if I gave myself a chance to… Let me see what its’ like… It’s sad but surprisingly sweet…
- What do I want to ask and of whom as a way of honouring the beauty of my longing? e.g. Hm…I’ll ask my most receptive friend to listen to me while I explore this longing “thing”. I want to understand it and pay attention to it some more.
Here’s to cherishing your need for attention!